How to Beat Hormonal Weight Gain

Why your changing hormones are making you hungrier—and how to keep yourself from gaining weight.

By Louann Brizendine, MD
chocolate cake picture

Donna can’t believe she’s feeling hungry again, and she’s so tired she can barely keep her eyes open. Then a coworker reminds her of the boss’s birthday celebration — chocolate cake and ice cream. It would be rude not to go, and besides, she’s really hungry. She rationalizes that she’ll skip dinner to make up for the extra calories.

Liz makes a detour on her way to the boss’s party. She buys a bottle of spicy vegetable juice to go with her low-fat string cheese from home. The protein curbs her craving and the juice turns off her sweet tooth so she can go to the party and be satisfied with a bite of cake, not a whole piece.

5:30 p.m.

Donna skips her workout and joins a friend for a drink to blow off steam after an unproductive day. She figures that exercise will just make her feel hungrier and take her last remnants of energy. She’s wrong. Exercise is more likely to increase her energy level and lift her mood. And the alcohol she’s drinking is metabolized as sugar, so Donna is heading for another high, followed by another low.

Liz fast-walks two miles on the high school track, finishing in time to pick up her son at soccer practice. She feels energized and happy about the calories she has just burned. But when she asks her teenager how his day was and he snaps at her, she feels upset. Mood instability and irritability are common during perimenopause, and this can trigger stress eating. Instead of turning to food, Liz takes the dog for a quick walk.

Hormonal Hunger at Night

Early Evening Dealing with Dinner (and Dessert)

Why do you always seem to have room for dessert? Since glucose is the fuel your brain needs to keep your body alive and functioning, your taste buds respond most favorably to sweet foods and beverages, even when your stomach is full.

 

Donna nibbles on bread while she makes dinner for her family. While they eat chicken, rice, and vegetables, she eats only the vegetables. For dessert, her husband and kids have birthday cake that the boss insisted she take home. She resolves not to eat any of it.

Liz makes salmon, broccoli, and a high-fiber grain called quinoa (high in iron, which many women in their 40s need because of heavy periods.) After dinner, everyone wants dessert. She scoops up chocolate soy ice cream and sprinkles toasted almonds on top. Eating soy protein can keep your ghrelin level down; it also has phytoestrogens, which may help reduce hot flashes. But Liz is mindful of her portion, because soy is high in fat.

Late Evening: Curbing Emotional Eating

As the rush of the day recedes, emotional eating issues come to the fore.

Donna pops a pretzel into her mouth as she cleans up after dinner. There’s a skirmish or two about homework and plans for the weekend. Before she knows it, she has eaten a few handfuls. She opens the refrigerator to put away the leftovers and spies the last hunk of birthday cake. As she pulls it out, she chalks it up to PMS. "I’ve already blown it today," she figures, "so I might as well finish the cake." She tells her husband to walk the dog and sits down to watch the news.

Although Liz has had a good day, she suddenly feels a little down. Her periods have been so erratic that she doesn’t know if it’s PMS or just another weird hormonal mood swing. She thinks about eating but then decides to take a walk around the block instead. When she returns, she keeps herself busy and away from the kitchen. She does a 15-minute yoga routine, listening to a relaxing tape; takes her calcium supplement (which can help her sleep); and starts preparing for bed.

The perimenopausal brain operates best on a schedule. Estrogen changes can disturb the brain’s sleep clock. Going to bed and getting up at the same time not only helps train you to sleep when you should, it provides the most available energy to your brain and body. It can also help control your appetite. When you’re tired, you’re vulnerable to eating more and making less-healthy food choices. Liz is all set for another day.

11:30 p.m.

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